Thursday, June 23, 2011
One day, a link broke. The bracelet loosened, almost falling off my wrist. I’d pay any cost to have it repaired as the bracelet represented both my mother and my grandmother. It had been passed down through the generations. When I wore it, I felt closer to them.
“Can you fix my bracelet?” I asked the neighborhood jeweler.
He broke the bad news, that it was so old there’d be no way he could restore it and that I should retire it to a jewelry box for safekeeping, His words hit me like a death in the family.
Only with my aging, did the age and history of the bracelet become important to me. My mother always believed her uncle, Art Hadley, invented it. Upon further research into the pages of the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent Office, I discovered it was collaboration between Mom’s Uncle Art and his co-worker Charles P. Kuehner. It was patented on February 11, 1913, (the date inscribed on the bracelet link) and manufactured in my Great Uncle Art’s jewelry shop.
Arthur Hadley of Providence, Rhode Island, was the Founder, President and Treasurer of the Hadley Jewelry Company which formed in 1913 on Fountain Street in Providence. However, Art’s roots were British. This eventually opened doors for business opportunities for him in both the United States and England. He was born to British parents in Cape Town, South Africa in 1885. The family, which included Art’s sister, my grandmother Una Hadley, moved to Providence when Art was 3 years old. He graduated from the Technical High School in Providence and first worked as a toolmaker. Great Uncle Art always remained a British subject and also founded an optical manufacturing company in England. A prosperous businessman, he divided his time between the two countries and his two companies, until retirement in 1937.
History writes that in the 19th century, there was little jewelry production in the United States. It was all made I Europe with specific pieces serving the different classes. At the end of the 20th century, Newark, New Jersey and Providence, Rhode Island became the main jewelry centers in America, enhanced through gold resources in the West. Art Hadley had landed in the perfect spot…and at the perfect time!
According to Bert Kalisher, Editor of Chronos Magazine, Hadley’s expansion bracelet invention became the forerunner of the expansion wristwatch band.
“Art Hadley was mechanically very clever, ran a good business and was a pioneer,” said Kalisher.
He added, “Everything he made was dignified and in good taste. His product and business showed an artistic and orderly mind.”
Around 1905, Hadley started making women’s watch bands. Women wore wristwatches affixed to a black ribbon attachment, manufactured and sold through Hadley Jewelry Company.
Men, now serving in the armed forces during WWI, needed a watch they could wear on their wrist, as the pocket watch became impractical, with its face breaking when the soldiers jumped into a foxhole. By the end of 1918, men were wearing wristwatches, which grew popular in the 1920s and 30s.
Kalisher points out that Hadley’s expansion band used the scissor system with springs for watchbands through WWII. These were produced by companies like Speidel, Lenox, and Hadley-Kalbe. The scissor system expansion bands faded in the 60s and 70s because they were too costly to make and were apt to break. Speidel’s Twistoflex replaced the scissor system in 1960 from a patent they leased from a German company.
Kalisher notes, too, that an original wristwatch is showcased in the Smithsonian, attached to Art Hadley’s expansion bracelet. And, when I walk through our local mall, I stop and stare at the booth displaying the bright, shiny gold “Hadley-Roma” watchbands and bracelets. I’m delighted that the Hadley name lives on with Art’s invention.
Great Uncle Art’s expansion bracelet now sits in my dining room corner cupboard with other cherished antiques. Its delicate links break easily and can no longer be worn. With each dusting of the cupboard and careful cleaning of the bracelet, I take great pride in knowing the family history of the first expansion bracelet ever made.
The mind-boggling story that follows this, on what became of Art Hadley’s fortune, is captured in my recently published co-written book, “The Inventor’s Fortune Up For Grabs” by Suzanne G. Beyer and John S. Pfarr.
Investigative Discovery T.V.’s “The Will” will feature Hadley’s fortune story on a fall episode. The exact date will be set in September. I’ll put it on my website www.theinventorsfortune.com.